Weaving her way into our hearts with the haunting and ethereal strains of “Aayega Aanewala” in “Mahal” (1949), Lata Mangeshkar became the definitive voice of several generations of Indian film heroines – from Madhubala to Madhuri Dixit, Kamini Kaushal to Kajol, Padmini to Preity Zinta, Sharmila Tagore to Sridevi and countless others – in a wide range of melodic songs that will resonate for all ages.
Filling the void left by singing superstars such as Noor Jahan and Suraiyya following emigration or retirement, she overcame what Dilip Kumar gently teased about the “dal-chawal” flavor of her Urdu, to achieve perfect diction in this expressive language for fashion magic in the thousands of songs she has rendered for dozens of gifted music composers and inspired lyricists.
As the inevitable fate of humans stops the golden voice that has long been an essential ingredient of Bollywood film for seven decades, and helped many of them succeed – Raj Kapoor, until the end of her life, was convinced it was her absence that made her darling “Mera Naam Joker” a flop – let’s revisit Lata Mangeshkar through her songs over the years, limiting it to one song per actress.
Even if we stick to the solos, discarding the duets as much as possible, to concentrate on his superlative voice, which remains an arduous task, not to say very subjective, given the extent of his contribution.
Do we choose pensive “Zindagi Bhar Nahi Bhoolegi Woh Barsaat ki Raat” or bold “Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya” for Madhubala, soothing “Ghar Aaya Mera Pardesi”, carefree “Panchi Banu Mast Phiru Mast Gagan Mein “, or even the redeeming “Jago Mohan Pyaare” for Nargis, the playful “Toone O Rangeele”, or the sparkling “Mere Naseeb Mein Tu Hai Ki Nahi” for Hema Malini?
Which for Nutan, for Mala Sinha, for Rekha? Let’s try.
Madhubala: It was through “Aayega Aanewala…”, depicted on this actress, that Lata Mangeshkar’s voice came to the fore some seven years after her debut, and the Madhubala-Lata combination continued to produce magical melodies in classics from “Chalti Ka Naam Zindagi” to “Mughal-e-Azam”.
But, given Madhubala’s effervescent on-screen persona, let’s choose the tune that shows her in an unhappy and gloomy situation, and shows the inclusive nature of Bollywood and India, the ‘hamd’ (a song composed at the praise of the Prophet) “Bekas per karam kijiye, o sarkar-e-Madina”, written by Shakeel Badayuni and composed by the illustrious Naushad.
Nargis: Raj Kapoor’s work had certain constants – himself as star, Nargis as heroine, Shankar-Jaikishan for music, Hasrat Jaipuri-Shailendra for lyrics, and Mukesh and Lata as voice. But Lata’s contribution to Nargis went beyond the RK banner. “Dil Ke Girah Khol Do, Chup Na Baitho, Koi Geet Gao” with the heroine, paired with the young and debonair Feroz Khan, in a difficult role in a film dealing with mental problems, is worth listening to
Mena Kumari: From “Mohe Bhool Gaye Sawariya” to “Ajeeb Dastan Hai Yeh”, the combination of Meena Kumari and Lata has yielded several unforgettable melodies in Bollywood. But their defining contribution comes in “Pakeezah,” the gifted actress’ swan song. It’s hard to choose between “Inhi Logon Ne” and “Chalte Chalte”, but it’s the difficult “Thare Rahiyo” that showcases both at their best.
Vyjanthimala: While “Hothon Pe Daba Ke Aisi Baat” from “Jewel Thief” might be a serious contender, the success of Bimal Roy’s supernatural “Madhumati” owes a lot to its music, beyond the performances of Dilip Kumar, Vyjanthimala, Pran and Jayant. The duet “Dil Tadap Tadap Ke” is an evergreen melody, where “Chad Gaya Paapi Bichua” has its dots, it’s “Aaja Re Pardesi” that stands out.
Sadhna: The heroine who popularized a new hairstyle had Lata Mangeshkar to thank for songs that showcased her cinematic prowess, from the classic “O Sajna Barkha Bahar Aayi” to the haunting “To Jahan Rahega, Mera Saaya Saath Hoga,” but it is the haunting “Lag Ja Gale”, with the masterful music of Madan Mohan which will also evoke the impermanence of love and keep the two in our memories
Nanda: The graceful, endearing-eyed actress also owes Lata Mangeshkar her defining melodies on the big screen, from “Kis Liye Maine Pyaar Kiya” to “Allah, Ishwar Tero Naam,” but it’s the sultry “Yeh Samaa Yeh Samaa Hai Pyar.” Ka” which defines their collaboration.
Waheeda Rehman: Again, a series of moving melodies connect the elegant actress with the superlative voice of “Kahin Deep Jale Kahin Dil” to “Rangeela Re”, but it is the exuberant and carefree “Aaj Phir Zeene ki Tamanna Hai”, with this mighty “Kaaton se kheench ke yeh aanchal” starting it, seems a strong contender for their best.
Sharmila Tagore: From the soulful “Kuch Dil Ne Kaha” to “Chalo Sajna Jahan Tak”, the dimpled beauty has found Lata as her ideal voice, but one of their best may be the power-packed “Ab Ke Sajan Sawan Mein” and tinged with classic, and the hidden affection it showcases.
Hema Malini: Again, from “Tune O Rangeele” to “Mere Naseeb Mein To Hai Ke Nahi”, Lata created the magic in the musical releases of the “Dream Girl”, but the one that stands out for its setting, music and performances. lyrics is “Ae Dil-e-Nadan” from “Razia Sultan”.
Rekha: While younger sister Asha Bhosle played the best for Rekha in “Umrao Jaan”, Lata Mangeskhar was no slouch for the diva as evidenced by songs from “O Pardesiya” to “Yeh Kahaan Aa Gaye Ham” to “Aaj Kal Paaon Zameen Par”. But it is the rather difficult “Salaam-e-Ishq”, before the point where Amitabh/Kishore joins this “alaap”.
Zeenat Aman: The lively and westernized Zeenat was rather well served by Asha Bhosle (remember the rebel “Dum Maaro Dam”), but Lata Mangeshkar was never late as “Jiska Mujhe Tha Intezar” to “Shama Jale Ya Na Jale”. It was however for a deglamorized rural Zeenat in the eponymous title track of “Satyam Shivam Sundaram”, which is a classic.
Kapadia Dimple: For this actress, who ventured into some rather offbeat movies after her comeback but performed with aplomb throughout, it’s a toss-up between “Lekin’s” Yaara Seeli Sili” and “Dil Hoom Hoom Kare ” of “Rudaali”, with their evocative music a perfect complement to this vigorous voice.
Madhuri Dixit: She was almost four decades younger, but Madhuri Dixit still found Lata Mangeshkar to be her perfect voice as seen in “Didi Tera Devar Deewana”. But it’s that exuberant “Dil to Paagal Hai” that shows that Lata, almost in her seventies at the time, still had an evergreen voice – because in addition to Madhuri, she also sang for the even younger Karisma.
Kajol: “Yeh Dil Tum Bin Nahi Lagta” was Lata singing for Tanuja in 1968, and more than a quarter of a century later she was as fresh as she sang “Mere Khwabon Mein Jo Aaye” for her daughter Kajol in the monument” Dilwale Dulhaniya The Jaayenge”. Choose from any song.
Preity Zinta: When you mix legends like AR Rehman and Lata, it will result in pure enchantment. “Jiya Jale” is a standout song in “Dil Se.”
There are so many more – “Ghairon pe Karam Apno pe Sitam” illustrated on Mala Sinha – which shows that Lataji could never be criticized for her Urdu pronunciation; “Dil to Hai Dil, Dil Ka Kya Aitbaar Kijiye” on Rakhee; “Tere Bina Zindagi Ko Shikwa Nahi” on Suchitra Sen; “Chori Chori Koi Aaye” on Poonam Dhillon; “Sheesha Ho Ya Dil Ho” on Reena Roy, and so many others that will remain testimony to her overall contribution to Bollywood.